Plato’s Republic focuses on the concept of mimesis/imitation in poetry. In Book X, Socrates, the main character, explain his vision of why imitative poetry should be banned. When discussing the nature of imitation, he rejects its value because it does not recreate the truth but only appearance of things. In other words, art is an imitation of imitation; hence it is not true to life. “Imitation is only a kind of play or sport” he says, so this does not have any moral value either. The only true value of imitation is an aesthetic one, because it focuses on appearances. However, Plato believes that the aesthetic component is not enough for poetry to be approved. He states the following opinion: “all poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers, and that the knowledge of their true nature is the only antidote to them”( Plato).
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The drawback of imitation in poetry is that it makes unreal emotions so realistic that it affects people’s psychological state in a negative way, leading to depression. As the author point out, initially imitation is neutral: “Imitation imitates the actions of men, whether voluntary or involuntary, on which, as they imagine, a good or bad result has ensued, and they rejoice or sorrow accordingly”( Plato). However, the problem is that most people are not moderate about their emotions. Hence, there is either an excess anger or excess sorrow, or any other kind of emotion, which is transmitted to another person through art. Because good poetry tends to make people sympathize with other people’s emotions, even the noblest ones get overwhelmed with passions. Hence, imitation makes moderate people immoderate, and is thus destructive in terms of morals. This is why Socrates according to Plato believes that poetry is harmful.
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